The Capitol Police gained new powers when Biden on Wednesday signed into law a bill authorizing the police chief to “unilaterally” request emergency backup from the National Guard and federal law enforcement, an effort to streamline a process that resulted in delays during the Jan. 6 attack.
When the bill cleared Congress last week, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said in a statement that “Jan. 6 showed us that every minute counts during an emergency.” Capitol Police and D.C. Metropolitan Police were quickly overwhelmed at the Capitol on Jan. 6 when a crowd filled with Trump supporters breached the building where lawmakers were certifying Biden’s election victory, leading to five deaths and dozens of injured police officers.
“Our report found that Capitol Police officers and their law enforcement partners were left alone to defend the Capitol and our democracy itself from violent insurrectionists, while the Chief of the Capitol Police was delayed in obtaining approval to request help from the National Guard,” Klobuchar said. “This legislation will help ensure the Capitol Police Chief has the authority needed to call for reinforcements at the Capitol swiftly during emergencies.”
A bipartisan investigation into the failures of Jan. 6 concluded that “the need to await Capitol Police Board approval during an emergency hindered the ability to request … National Guard assistance quickly.” On Jan. 6, the law required the Capitol Police chief get approval first from the Capitol Police Board, a group that oversees the force and consists of the House and Senate sergeants at arms, the architect of the Capitol, and the police chief. The new law removes that requirement and also mandates that the board appear publicly at joint oversight hearings, something that hasn’t happened since 1945, according to the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration.
“This bipartisan bill addresses a major security challenge that was evident on January 6th, and is part of our ongoing effort to strengthen Capitol security moving forward,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).